The social media giant bent rules to amplify US military propaganda, an investigation by The Intercept has claimed.
Twitter allegedly helped the Pentagon push its covert ‘PsyOps’ campaign that promoted Washington’s military interests in the Middle East, an investigative journalist has claimed in the latest release of what is known as the Twitter Files.
“Despite promises to shut down covert state-run propaganda networks, Twitter docs show that the social media giant directly assisted the US military’s influence operations,” investigative journalist Lee Fang of The Intercept tweeted on Tuesday.
PsyOps – the military jargon for psychological operations – is defined as targetting foreign adversaries “to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately, the behaviour of foreign governments, organisations, groups, and individuals.”
Fang’s revelations are the latest in a series of Twitter internal documents and communications released by Elon Musk, the platform’s current CEO.
Fang said Twitter had “no input” on his report and added that a Twitter official told him he felt “deceived by the covert shift”.
Musk - who had earlier said that Twitter was a “crime scene”, shared Fang’s thread on Twitter as he has with other Twitter Files reports.
“Yikes!” Musk tweeted.
1. TWITTER FILES PART 8— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
*How Twitter Quietly Aided the Pentagon’s Covert Online PsyOp Campaign*
Despite promises to shut down covert state-run propaganda networks, Twitter docs show that the social media giant directly assisted the U.S. military’s influence operations.
In 2017, Fang said, Twitter created a special “whitelist tag” that treats accounts without the platform’s blue check as verified accounts, meaning they are more visible and exempt from spam flags.
This feature was created the same day US Central Command (CENTCOM) sent Twitter a list of over 50 Arabic-language accounts the military used to “amplify certain messages”, according to Fang’s investigation.
The US military official asked for priority service for six accounts, verification for one and “whitelist” abilities for the others, the thread explained.
“The CENTCOM accounts on the list frequently tweeted about US military priorities in the Middle East, including promoting anti-Iran messages, promoting the Saudi Arabia-US backed war in Yemen, and ‘accurate’ US drone strikes that claimed to only hit terrorists,” Fang claimed.
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Promoting US military priorities
The report detailed how Twitter worked with the Pentagon despite Twitter claiming for years that they “make concerted efforts to detect & thwart gov-backed platform manipulation”.
In 2020, a Twitter spokesperson testified before the US Congress about the platform’s efforts against government influence operations.
“Combatting attempts to interfere in conversations on Twitter remains a top priority for the company, and we continue to invest heavily in our detection, disruption, and transparency efforts related to state-backed information operations,” Nick Pickles said at the time.
7. CENTCOM then shifted strategies & deleted disclosures of ties to the Twitter accounts. The bios of the accounts changed to seemingly organic profiles. One bio read: “Euphrates pulse.” Another used an apparent deep fake profile pic & claimed to be a source of Iraqi opinion. pic.twitter.com/VVVb15BDQ2— Lee Fang (@lhfang) December 20, 2022
Fang added that the social media giant defined “state-backed information operations” as “coordinated platform manipulation efforts” that could be attributed to state-affiliated actors.
“But behind the scenes, Twitter gave approval & special protection to the US military’s online psychological influence ops,” Fang wrote in his thread.
“Despite knowledge that Pentagon propaganda accounts used covert identities, Twitter did not suspend many for around 2 years or more. Some remain active.”
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